Deaths from vehicle crashes in the U.S. have seen a spike since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the most severe surge since the 1940s. Taking a closer look, research shows that lower-income individuals are more likely to die in crashes.
Whether it’s because of distracted driving due to smartphones, the higher speed limits on U.S. roads or the fact that Americans tend to own larger vehicles, the death rate didn’t experience the same decline in the United States as seen in other parts of the world, according to The New York Times.
Leading up to 2020, the mortality rate was beginning to decline — but then the pandemic hit. Even though people drove less in 2021, and the traffic didn’t increase much in 2021 compared to 2019, deaths trended upward, according to NBC News.
Sorting out the exact cause of the sudden increase may take some time but, per the Times, there are a few possible reasons — mental health problems, increased substance use during isolating moments and less regulation on roads due to health concerns could all be contributors.
Meanwhile, poor people bear the brunt of the loss, either because they are more likely to buy older, less safe cars or because their neighborhoods attract those who prefer high speeds.
Per The Washington Post, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg earlier this year pledged to adopt a “safe system” approach, looking at the design of roads and cars as well as driver behavior.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 9,560 people died in a motor vehicle crash in the first quarter of 2022, which is “the highest number of first-quarter fatalities since 2002,” the agency said in a press release.
“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction. Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety,” said Steven Cliff, an administrator at NHTSA.
“Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are more resources than ever for research, interventions and effective messaging and programs that can reverse the deadly trend and save lives,” he said.